I may not always know the answer but I can often give you a book to read. I love to recommend books to others. So, why not share with you the books I found particularly helpful? Here are ten books to put under your tree for Christmas. They are listed in no particular order. With each book I’ll enclose information provided by the publisher or Amazon.com followed by my comments: “Why I recommend this book.”


The 3rd Alternative by Stephen R. Covey – From the bestselling author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People — The 3rd Alternative introduces a breakthrough approach to conflict resolution and creative problem solving. Covey turns his formidable insight to a powerful new way to resolve professional and personal difficulties and create solutions to great challenges in organizations and society.


In any conflict, the 1st Alternative is my way and the 2nd Alternative is your way. The fight usually boils down to a question of whose way is better. There are many methods of “conflict resolution,” but most involve compromise, a low-level accommodation that stops the fight without breaking through to amazing new results. The 3rd Alternative is about more than just an armistice—it’s about creating a new and improved reality.


Why I like this book: Resolving conflicts from critical social issues down to who makes the coffee on Sunday morning is a regular part of church life. How those conflicts are resolved represents a significant portion of our witness for Jesus Christ. The 3rd Alternative offers a new approach toward resolving conflicts and creating solutions that could unite rather than divide our churches.


Christmas Is Not Your Birthday by Mike Slaughter – Every year, we say we’re going to cut back, simplify, and have a family Christmas that focuses on the real reason for the season—Jesus. But every year, advertisements beckon, the children plead, and it seems easier just to indulge our wants and whims. Overspending, overeating, materialism, and busyness rob us of our peace and joy and rob Jesus of his rightful role as the center of our celebration.

This Christmas, cut through the hype that leaves you exhausted and broke at the end of the year. Instead, experience the peace of knowing that God is truly with us, the joy of giving sacrificially, and the love of a Savior who gave everything he had for us. In five short, engaging chapters, Pastor Mike Slaughter inspires readers to approach Christmas differently, and be transformed in the process.


Why I like this book: Most of us as pastors spend every Christmas pleading with our congregations not to give in to the rampant materialism that has become a major part of the season. “Christmas Is Not Your Birthday” instead presents an alternative. Focus on Jesus and the mission of the church and in the process you, your church and your community will be radically changed forever.


Onward by Howard Schultz and Joanne Gordon – In 2008, Howard Schultz, the president and chairman of Starbucks, made the unprecedented decision to return as the CEO eight years after he stepped down from daily oversight of the company. Concerned that Starbucks had lost its way, Schultz was determined to help it return to its core values and restore not only its financial health, but also its soul. In Onward, he shares the remarkable story of his return and the company’s ongoing transformation under his leadership, revealing how, during one of the most tumultuous economic times in history, Starbucks again achieved profitability and sustainability without sacrificing humanity.


Onward represents Schultz’s central leadership philosophy: It’s not just about winning, but the right way to win. Ultimately, he gives readers what he strives to deliver every day—a sense of hope that, no matter how tough times get, the future can be just as or more successful than the past, whatever one defines success to be.


Why I like this book: Reading “Onward” for me was like reading the story of many of our churches. Losing relevance in today’s rapidly changing world and struggling financially, many of our churches feel they have lost their soul. The passion, creativity and new ideas Howard Schultz brings to restoring Starbucks offer valuable lessons that could easily be utilized by our local churches.


The Pastor: A Memoir by Eugene H. Paterson – In The Pastor, Eugene H. Peterson, the translator of the multimillion-selling The Message and the author of more than thirty books, offers his life story as one answer to the surprisingly neglected question: What does it mean to be a pastor?


When Peterson was asked by his denomination to begin a new church in Bel Air, Maryland, he surprised himself by saying yes. And so was born Christ Our King Presbyterian Church. But Peterson quickly learned that he was not exactly sure what a pastor should do. He had met many ministers in his life, from his Pentecostal upbringing in Montana to his seminary days in New York, and he admired only a few. He knew that the job’s demands would drown him unless he figured out what the essence of the job really was. Thus began a thirty-year journey into the heart of this uncommon vocation—the pastorate.


Why I like this book: Reading this book is like being inside the skin of a pastor who struggles with many of the same issues all pastors face. His common sense answers and his spiritual outlook are not only helpful but give us all a sense of hope and a gentle reminder that the church can and always will be a vital part of our community and world.


The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules by Carolyn Custis James – This isn’t the Ruth, the Naomi, or the Boaz we thought we knew. Carolyn Custis James has unearthed startling new insights from this well-worn story… insights that have life-changing implications for you. Naomi is no longer regarded as a bitter, complaining woman, but as a courageous overcomer. A female Job. Ruth (typically admired for her devotion to Naomi and her deference to Boaz) turns out to be a gutsy risk-taker and a powerful agent for change among God’s people. She lives outside the box, and her love for Yahweh and Naomi compels her to break the rules of social and religious convention at nearly every turn. Boaz, the Kinsman Redeemer, is repeatedly caught off-guard by Ruth’s initiatives. His partnership with her models the kind of male/female relationships that the gospel intends for all who follow Jesus.


James drills down deeper into the story where she uncovers in the Old Testament the same passionate, counter-cultural, rule-breaking gospel that Jesus modeled and taught his followers to pursue. Within this age-old story is a map to radical levels of love and sacrifice, combined with the message that God is counting on his daughters to build his kingdom. The Gospel of Ruth vests every woman’s life with kingdom purposes and frees us to embrace wholeheartedly God’s calling, regardless of our circumstances or season of life. This story of two women who have lost everything contains a profound message: God created women not to live in the shadowy margins of men or of the past, but to emerge as courageous activists for his kingdom.


Why I like this book: For me, the book of Ruth has always been a beautiful love story but I overlooked a deeper significance. Carolyn Custis James in The Gospel of Ruth provides new insight and a fresh perspective on God, the Bible and especially how courageous women can overcome adversity. Ruth and Naomi represent excellent leadership models for women seeking to make a difference.


Next week: Five more books to have before Christmas.